Skip to main content


July 2024
1min read

Claiming historical firsts is sometimes a risky business, as we were reminded by a reader’s letter not long ago. Allan L. Damon had written that Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was the first woman to be elected to the Senate in her own right ("Congress,” October, 1974). Edward P. Kelly of Glens Falls, New York, suggests that the honor properly belongs to Hattie Wyatt Caraway, an Arkansas Democrat, who was appointed to the Senate in November, 1981, as a replacement for her late husband, Thaddeus. Mrs. Caraway subsequently won a special election in January, 1932, and the regular election nine months later. She was re-elected in 1938 and served in the Senate until iQ45, when her seat was taken by William J. Fulbright. Mrs. Smith, however, remains the first—and thus far the only—woman to have served in both the House and the Senate.

Clement F. Trainer, of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, has pointed out another misstatement in the article. Mr. Trainer writes:
Under the subtitle “Exclusion, Censure, and Expulsion” Mr. Damon makes the statement that “the Senate has excluded only one individual, Pinckney B.S. Pinchback. … After three years of delay and debate the Senate refused to accept his credentials.” I can cite at least one other situation, curiously involving an identical span of time, in which the Senate took similar action.

William S. Vare of Philadelphia, a Republican member of the House for fifteen years, won a contested primary election for United States senator from Pennsylvania early in 1926. Shortly thereafter a special committee of the Senate began a probe of the election as a result of charges of fraud and excessive expenditures. In November of” the same year Vare won the general election, and his opponent filed charges of fraud. When Vare presented his credentials, he was, in his words, “stopped at the threshold of the chamber as though 1 were some common thief. …”

The issue was resolved on December 6, 1929, after Vare, a broken man, was allowed to appear on the floor ot the Senate and personally plead his case. He was denied his seat on the grounds of allegedly excessive expenditures in the primary election, although acquitted of the charges of fraud in the general election.

In the same article we gave Alaska’s date of admission to the Union as 1960; it was in fact 1959.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.